If the fall in Lanark County was big, bold, and colourful, then spring was just the opposite. The autumn was in-your-face, unavoidable, brilliant hues in every direction; yellows, oranges, reds and greens. The soundtrack for this colourful season consisted of hunters’ rifles echoing in the distance, Canada geese honking, and cottagers speeding up and down the Third Line, making their last few trips to Christie Lake, before the cold weather set in for the season.
Spring was the exact opposite. Sometimes Old Man Winter just didn’t want to let go, and spring came quietly, hesitating, like a shy young lady, not quite sure if it was her time to come up on the stage for the show. Sometimes we’d see a sneak preview of spring, and she’d enter ever so softly into the yard, drifting along on a warm south wind, only to be turned back at the gate, as winter stubbornly hung on, refusing to leave.
The yard dried up a bit more each day, and the sun stayed up in the sky a little longer. We’d clean off our boots for the season, and store them up in the attic; only to find snow on the ground the very next day, as though winter had been spying on us through the window, and wanted to make his presence known once again. Up the back-stairs we’d march, retrieve our boots reluctantly, and set them back down on the rubber mat by the kitchen door, all the while feeling discouraged and beaten.
With the snow finally gone, the plants began to poke their heads timidly out of the ground. First, the flowering bulbs along the sidewalk, then thin, frail strands of grass began to stand up straight and green again and next the bashful buds on the trees slowly unfurled their pale green leaves. There was a soft green glow all through the yard, as the plants cautiously came back to life.
Just like the budding leaves around us, the earliest flowers sensed that the frost was past, and it was safe to inch their way out of the chilly ground, and show their colours. The very first flowers to bloom were always the crocuses, tulips and daffodils, and we monitored their growth like hawks. No other flowers of the summer or fall would get as much attention as those first few bulbs that bravely made their way through the cold earth each spring. Mother’s bulbs were planted right along the sidewalk leading up to the old house, so there was no way we could miss their progress.
The sun began to feel stronger and hotter on our faces, the purple and yellow Irises sprang up along the creek beside Perkins’ field. With the snow melted, moisture soaked the ground, and the water drained from the fields, rushed along through the culverts, and into the lowlands. Yellow Cowslips appeared at the edge of the woods, and tiny black tadpoles darted back and forth, searching for food in the cold, clear water that rushed along in the creek.
Early in May, the ditches along the side road were painted bright with Trilliums – mostly white, but also pink and some even burgundy coloured. Past the ditches, and at the edges of the fields, there were tiny purple Violets, and fragile, white, Lilies of the Valley, bobbing their heads in the breeze. Taller and bolder, stood the Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and nearby, were the rounded silhouettes of the showy Lady Slippers.
Closer to the railroad tracks, we saw the comically shaped Dutchman’s Breeches, waving in the warm spring winds. Not really a flower, but a much-loved bloom of our spring nonetheless, were the Pussy Willows, and we often took a branch or two back for Mother, to put in her glass vase on the dining room table.
As the days and weeks of spring passed by, the lilac bushes filled our yard with their unmistakable fragrance. If spring had a signature scent in Lanark County surely it was born in these heavy clumps of flowers, that graced almost every yard in the region.
There was no escaping the heady perfume, and even as we opened the car doors, outside of Calvin Church on Sunday mornings, we’d be greeted by that sweet smell, as it drifted across the road from Cameron’s farm, and from up near the manse, where the minister lived. The bumble bees had awakened from their dormant state in the hives, and they buzzed around the white and lavender lilacs, gliding from flower to flower, and just like us, were drawn to their rich, sweet scent.
Along with the rebirth of the flowers and trees in our yard, some of our familiar birds re-appeared, as the weeks grew warmer, and days grew longer. Everyone wanted to be the first to spot one of the robins, returning each year, to the nest in the spruce tree near the house; but long before that, the skies were filled with geese, flying in their familiar ‘v’ formation.
In the weeks that followed, we saw the return of the Red-winged Blackbirds, the Barn Swallows, and the bright orange and black Orioles. The Wrens were a common sight in our yard, and the Killdeers had by far the most distinctive cries, as they soared high in the branches of the maple trees. Less common, were the tall, regal Blue Herons, that appeared in the lowlands near the train tracks. The mallard ducks paraded their young along the duck-pond, near the Fourth Line.
The bees were not the only ones with a taste for something sweet, and the earliest treats from our spring gardens were the strawberries and the rhubarb. The rhubarb grew wild in a clump beside Perkins’ fence, at the edge of Mother’s flower bed, and although it was tart on its own, it was a perfect complement mixed with the sweet juicy strawberries. The rhubarb was picked, cleaned, chopped into pieces, and simmered gently, on top of the old stove. Sugar was added to sweeten the taste, and Mother served the stewed rhubarb in little melamine dishes, for a spring dessert.
The strawberries and rhubarb were often combined with sugar in a saucepan on top of the stove, simmered slowly, cooled, and spooned into one of Mother’s rich pie crusts. She would cut long strips of pastry, lay them criss-crossed on the top of the sweet combination of strawberry-rhubarb, and bake to a golden brown in the old oven.
When the local strawberries were at their peak, Calvin Church held their annual Strawberry Social. The ladies’ auxiliary, the Calvinettes, bustled about in the church hall, preparing for the crowds that flocked to sample the sweet, rich, strawberry shortcake. Frances Dixon and Audrey Jordan, Betty Miller, Ona Closs, Eleanor Conboy, Merle Korry, Jean Jordan, Wilma Munro, Doris Popplewell, Phyllis Korry, Agnes Stiller, Shirley Tysick, Carmel Jordan, Wilma Scott, Laura Milne, Marge Cook, Betty Johnston, Maxine Jordan, and of course, Mother, would all be busy in the tiny church kitchen. These ladies had worked together on so many occasions, that they moved about in harmony, like a symphony orchestra, each one performing their parts to perfection.
There were kettles to boil, and pots of tea to prepare. Coffee was made in the tall metal percolator, and the china cups and saucers were all arranged on the plastic table cloth, at the center of the kitchen. The long, wooden tables were set up in the hall, and the wooden chairs placed along each side. Cheery vases of spring blooms graced the tables, and of course the stars of the show, the dozens of plates of strawberry shortcake were displayed on a wooden table beside the door, as if to entice the visitors to come and enjoy our first social outing of the season.
The Strawberry Social was our sign that the nice weather was officially here. The boots and coats were finally packed away for the season, and it was time to reconnect with neighbours and friends, along the Third Line.
Spring may have come slowly and timidly at first, but now she confidently took her rightful place on center stage. Over the weeks she gained determination, and brought forth a sense of optimism, along with her soft greens, and her fragrant flowers. Her bright sun warmed our bones, and lingered on after supper, making our days longer, and our spirits brighter. It was a time for rebirth in the barns, woods and meadows, and for planting the crops in the fields.
We stepped a little lighter, laughed a little louder, and chatted over the fences a little longer. We gathered bouquets of wildflowers, dined on fresh strawberries and began to ride our bikes up and down the Third Line again. We ran up grassy hills and rolled back down again through the young clover, feeling light and giddy, free from our boots and coats. There were trilliums to pick for Mother, and tadpoles to catch and keep in a jar. Spring had come at last to Bathurst Township, and was it ever worth the wait!
Enjoy a taste of spring from Lanark County!
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Pastry – for double-crust pie, sufficient for top and bottom 9 inch crust.
3 c chopped rhubarb
3 c sliced strawberries
¼ c Lanark County maple syrup
1 ½ c white sugar
3 Tbsp tapioca
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp lemon zest
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
3 Tbsp butter cut in small cubes
1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp water
Mix rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, maple syrup, tapioca, flour, lemon zest and lemon juice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Mix and pour onto chilled pie crust. Dot the top of the mixture with butter. Brush edges of pie crust with egg white wash. Roll out the other piece of dough slice into long strips and place half of the strips across pie, then overlap remaining strips on the diagonal. Crimp with fork to seal edges. Lightly brush with egg white – water mixture. Cover edges with foil and bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the filling begins to bubble.
“Merry Month of May”
-an excerpt from “Lanark County Calendar: Four Seasons on the Third Line” ISBN 978-0-987702630